In an interview with Huffington Post, Andy Richter revealed that when Conan O'Brien invited him back on the team when they take over the Tonight Show in June, O'Brien made clear that Richter was free to pursue outside projects once the show had hit its stride.
"He actually in a very sort of endearing way spoke of the role in the third person," says Richter who is promoting the DVD release of Andy Richter Controls The Universe:The Complete Series ($39.98; Paramount), a 2002 sitcom invariably referred to as a cult favorite because it got great reviews but poor ratings.
"He'd say things like, 'And whoever would do this job, we'd want them to have the ability to go and do other things after the show was up and running for a while. If this person were to get a part in a movie they could do that," says the 42-year-old actor, who has branched out into directing commercials (such as a Missouri lottery scratch-off ad as a test run to see if he'd enjoy it) but is happy to be forever linked to his work with O'Brien.
"I knew he wasn't talking about just the average Joe; he was talking about me. The desire to do different things was the main motivator that made me leave late night because I'd been there seven years. The combination of an entrepreneurial desire to see how far I could push my success and a short attention span. But now I've done other things. And I'm sort of ready to sit somewhere and sit in the same place for a while. And I'm older too. I'm not as itchy. I really appreciate the fact that that offer was made to have the ability to go and do different things. After the show is on for a while - eight months or a year or something - I'll take him up on that. But right now I really want to devote myself to The Tonight Show. I want to get back and figure out how we're going to make The Tonight Show funny and good."
Obviously, O'Brien appreciates Richter's talent and sees his time away from late night as successful. Heck, he even co-created Andy Barker PI and cast Richter as the star, another show that shamelessly came and went (though Richter says it should appear on DVD sometime soon). And it's not like Richter sat at home or did infomercials. But unlike other actors who might embrace the critical acclaim, he takes a very cut and dried approach to appraising the three sitcoms he worked on. (The third, Quintuplets, was a more anonymous family sitcom; naturally, it ran the longest of the three, albeit a modest 22 episodes.)
"I'm of two minds," says Richter after I complimented him on how strong the episodes of Andy Richter Controls The Universe remain, including the five that never even aired. "I'm very proud of the work that I did. The ones from the second season especially are really really great. That was one of the saddest things about the second season. I really felt like we were all starting to hit our stride. The first season when we finished we felt exhausted. We were panting and fell as we hit the finish line. But we were just hitting our stride the second season when they pulled the plug. It was a shame.
"But as the quote unquote star of these shows, I feel an almost military responsibility for them to be successful. In one sense, it's an artistic endeavor to put something on television. But it's mainly a business endeavor. And in a business endeavor there's not a lot of grey areas. You're either a success or you're a failure. You either stay on the air and make everyone a lot of money or you go off the air and you become a cult favorite. So, I do feel some responsibility that we were successful on one level but we were also a failure. We didn't stay on the air like we should have. And I feel some responsibility for that."
I wondered if O'Brien had asked Richter for a time commitment -- something along the lines of, "I'd love to have you back but would you promise to stay with the show for the next three years" or something like that, assuming that O'Brien wouldn't want to face major changes early in his new role. But Richter treated the idea as just a contractual detail for the lawyers.
"It'll just be fun," says Richter, who is married with two kids and has been based in LA for years. "He didn't need to ask me that. That's one of the things that's been really nice about it too, how genuinely happy he seems to be to have me back. It's been really heartwarming and really touching."
Will he be sitting on the couch?
"I have no idea. There's no couch yet!" he laughs. "The couch has not been purchased. So we don't know where I'm going to sit. About all I know is I'll be doing the announcing. They want me to do comedy; I'll be going out and doing remotes. It sounds very much like what I did before. I don't know what the name of my position will be. I'm not particularly concerned."